I already wrote Maeve’s birth story, and now I offer it up a second time, in photographs. Amy Carroll was with us once again, though she sadly missed the ACTUAL birth, through no fault of her own. She walked in just minutes after Maeve was born. The photographs begin after I had just collected Maeve into my arms and laid back onto the bed with her, and continue through the beautiful golden hour, and the newborn exam (which I did with my own two hands, mostly). I love these images SO MUCH. And though I do wish it had been possible to capture THE moment of her entrance into the world, caught by her daddy’s hands, I know as a birth photographer that all things turn out as they were meant to be.
I’d been saying all along that I would be “late” with this baby. There were so many loose ends to wrap up, and I could tell she wasn’t huge, and therefore I suspected she’d probably hang out a little past her EDD, packing on a bit more weight. I was cool with it, relieved even.
Until the last BIG thing on my “list of things that must be done before I can have a baby” was checked off, just a few days before my EDD. I attended the most beautiful, soulful, gratitude-filled home birth in the middle of a snow storm, present with my whole heart and my cameras to help this amazing mama tell her birth story. I went home happy and satisfied and expecting on some level that I’d immediately go into labor. I did not.
So for the next few days I was firmly positioned in that awful in-between space that one almost inevitably falls into when pregnant with a full term baby. The irritability, the suspense, the weariness and the bodily discomfort, the hormonally enhanced emotionality swinging to and fro.. something is about to happen, and soon, but soon is so darn RELATIVE.
I spent a day weeping, another day raging, all while trying to keep a schedule inclusive of both rest and activities to look forward to with people I enjoy, activities which might also include labor (going out for greasy food with my SIL, walking the skywalks downtown with two friends from my church family, a date night at home with Tim *wink*). I also engaged in some house-cleaning, both literal and figurative. I dug deep to tend to any emotional, psychological or relational hang-ups that I could clear out of the way. Whether or not doing this work is what ultimately summoned Maeve to be born, I cannot say, but all the same, it was a good cleansing process that set the stage to welcome her.
Throughout much of this pregnancy, whenever I’ve tried to imagine what her birth would be like, I kept coming back to this picture of myself, kneeling on the floor, alone at night, and birthing her in complete solitude. An interesting recurrent image, since the actual plan involved a small army of birth workers, most significantly Sara, with whom I’ve done all of my births!, but each cherished and safe people whose presence has a lot of meaning for me, as well as at least two of our kids and a birth photographer. I had a lot of tension around these two contradictory pictures of my birth, and I felt unable to choose one over the other, so I told myself just to watch and see how things unfolded, to make the call about how truly alone I would be only after labor had actually commenced. When one of my midwives said, simply, “this birth will be perfect in every way,” it made me cry when I repeated it aloud. That helped me to let go of control and concern over the details and just trust that whatever it ended up looking like, it would indeed be perfect. God knows.
On Friday (Dec 16), the day I had woken up determined to use reverse psychology by telling myself often and with confidence that I wasn’t ever going into labor and that’s just fine because I don’t even want to (so there!), I was having a pretty good day. My mom took the kids for the morning, so Tim and I got to putz around our quiet light-filled house, doing little nesting tasks, drinking coffee slowly, and switching into a more relaxed mode of being. I even ran out to the public library to pick out a few books to pass the time, and came home with titles such as “I heart my little a-holes,” “after birth (a novel)” and a collection of Anne Lamott’s essays (I find her to be the most pleasant postpartum companion).
The kids went off to school for the afternoon, and I took a nap while Walter was napping. My friend Whitney — who is a dairy farmer — texted me with wishes/predictions that my labor may begin that night as a cold front was moving in. She explained that cold fronts seem to bring on labor in their cows, to which I responded, “well then, in this regard, may I be like a cow!” and laughed. After all the kids were back home and/or up from nap at 4:30, Tim went out for a drink with his friend and mentor across town, and had plans to stop to pick up my favorite burger from The Cottage Bar on his way back around 6 pm. While he was gone, the snow started to fall and I started having contractions. But they weren’t bad and I could keep doing all the usual activities. I felt so irritable though. After the kids’ dinner (chicken nuggets and frozen veggies that they didn’t really eat), I lost my cool so badly with Hazel and Gus due to an unfortunate incident with watered down laundry detergent in the wood burning stove and on the living room floor, for which neither would admit responsibility. I found myself acting like my ugliest, raging version of myself and then had to lock myself in the bathroom for a time out until everything could diffuse a bit. More contractions.
Tim finally got home at about 6:30 and I was HANGRY. I ate that burger so fast. More contractions. I initiated bedtimes with the kids. Part of my brain knew that this might be the night, so I put each child to bed individually, to make it special, one last one-on-one time with each before their sister would be born, I reasoned and hoped. Walter was down, then Gus, then finally Hazel. And in between Walter and Gus’ bedtime routines, I found bloody mucous on the toilet paper when I went to the bathroom. I told the kids that it meant their sister would be coming soon, probably tonight.
By 7:30 they were all in bed, nice and early. I texted Sara (midwife) to tell her I thought I was in real labor, but early labor, and that I’d keep her posted. We wondered if contractions would pick up now that the kids were in bed. I timed them for a bit. They were 30-45 seconds long and 5-6 minutes apart. Nothing to write home about. So I grabbed my Anne Lamott book, went downstairs and paced from one end of our long house to the other, reading he soulful, funny words and gently contracting from time to time. Tim was wrapping up some of his own loose ends at the dining room table, writing important emails, and was largely unaware of what my body was doing. I was still hesitant to “call it” as labor because it was so erratic and not that intense. But at the same time, I could feel more pressure, I could feel my hips widen and my gait change to accommodate that. I had a few contractions that made me draw in my breath more sharply, but I was still walking, still reading.
So I went upstairs to sit on the yoga ball and timed contractions for a bit, from 8:35 to 8:50 pm. They were only 30 seconds long (and one minute-long one) and 2-3 minutes apart. Still nothing to write home about, in fact, those are lame early labor numbers right there! But I texted Tim (who was downstairs), “I’m for sure in labor. It’d be good if you could come make up the bed with the plastic sheet and the ‘don’t care if they get bloody’ sheets.” As he did that, I kept chatting with people on Facebook in between contractions, I cleaned the bathtub, I listened to Tim talk about the things he was writing emails about (until I couldn’t focus). The contractions seemed productive, but it also seemed like labor was puttering out, as the surges were so erratic still. I decided to put myself to bed, thinking maybe it had been a false start afterall (as I had had a few of these in the previous week and a half). So I texted Sara and Amy (birth photographer) to tell them that, then Tim left the room and I put on my pajamas and laid down in bed in the dark. This was at about 9:50 pm I think. By 10:02, I was texting Tim to come back, as I could tell things were picking up. So much for going to bed!
10:12 pm I’m texting Sara again — “hmmm. I don’t think sleep is going to be possible. They’re more intense and I can feel her descending. Maybe you should come now”. I texted Amy something similar. Then I laid there on my side, feeling the surges, breathing through them, feeling her move lower and lower… until I couldn’t lay down anymore and I got up on my hands and knees. Tim rubbed some labor blend EOs on my lower back, and massaged my back through the surges. We discussed whether or not to wake the kids to come watch, as they had wanted, but we weren’t sure there was time and we had no one there to tend to them, so we decided to let them sleep.
My legs were shaking. My water broke. Still I was personally texting Sara with these developments and updates between contractions. Still I wouldn’t call it pain, just mounting intensity. Yet I knew baby was coming very soon, cos I could feel her moving down. I kept saying affirmations aloud: “These surges aren’t stronger than me, they are me!” and “My baby is coming” and “I can do this.” At a certain moment I knew that I didn’t want to be alone, I wanted Sara! She was en route, but I wasn’t sure she’d make it in time. The next two contractions my body started to involuntarily push, but I didn’t start pushing with it just yet.
10:27 (?) pm, Sara appeared at my bedroom door, put on her gloves, and took her place beside Tim at the end of the bed. Becky (Sara’s senior midwife student) also slipped in very shortly after Sara. Now I began pushing with my body. The baby was moving down fast, squeezing everything out of my bowels along the way, like they were a tube of poop toothpaste (you’re welcome). I could feel her head hit my perineum, then crown. I was aware of every bit, and at one point moaned, “Remind me why I wanted to do this again?!” That was the only point it truly hurt and I was sure I was tearing. Sara announced that she had a compound hand, her arm was crossed over her lower face and that hand resting on the opposite cheek, so Sara reached in and pulled that hand out in front of her head, at which point, the rest of her head was easily born. The surges blurred together with no apparent breaks between, so it was just one long, mighty push — voluntary effort combined with involuntary reflex — before the rest of her was also born (10:32 pm). There was the instant relief of being emptied, of incredible pressure being released… followed nearly immediately by a cry from her tiny lungs, strong and healthy. “My baby! My baby!” I said through emotion, though I couldn’t see her yet. I momentarily rested my head on the pillows in front of me, filled with relief, just taking a moment before turning to meet her. “Did you catch her?!” I asked Tim, and he replied that he had, and that she was so slippery! I awkwardly maneuvered around to face her, with Becky helping me maneuver my leg over the attached cord, and gathered Maeve from Tim’s hands and into my arms and against my chest. She was here at last. We had done it!
And then Charis came in, looking joyfully shocked, followed quickly thereafter by Amy, holding a camera and looking full of disbelief that she had missed the grand entrance.
For the next hour and a half, I laid back on the bed, holding and nursing Maeve and chatting happily with my birth team. I was surrounded by strong, wise women and a supportive and engaged husband now, in these sweet moments after her birth. We laughed as we pieced together the progression of my labor and the timeline of how I’d communicated with each of them, and exclaimed how crazy it was that it nearly ended up being the unassisted birth I had envisioned. And because Sara has been my midwife with all four of my children, we got to reminisce and compare the births and features of all of them.
My placentas have ALWAYS taken about 2 hours to detach. This time was no exception. But we knew this in advance, so we didn’t even do much to try to deliver it until the hour and a half mark, at which point Becky took me to the bathroom to squat on the toilet with a chux pad beneath the seat until it decided to detach. She sat on the floor and talked with me and coached me through the tiny pushes and coughs until at last, there it was. Fully in tact, no excessive bleeding accompanying it, and I was finally done with the birth process.
I hobbled back to the bedroom where Tim had been doing skin-to-skin time with Maeve, and hopped back up on the bed to personally do her newborn exam, while Sara and Becky coached me through it! This was a first for me. But since the dream of becoming a midwife was birthed in me during my pregnancy with her, I thought that practicing this little skill set on my very own baby would be a fun little nod to that process of becoming. A few days before her birth, Sara’s mom, Anni, a midwife of 30 years and a mentor to me, had given me and Charis and Becky a little class on doing the newborn exam, so here I got to put it into practice right away. Using my own hands, I intentionally explored her from head to toe, checking sutures and fontenelles, palpating her abdomen, measuring her head (14″ and not at all moulded), chest (14″), belly (13″), and length (20.5″), rotating her hips, running a finger down her spine and looking for placement of eyes and alignment of leg lengths, feeling her reflexes respond to my touches. What a fun and intimate way to get to know my new baby. This was really special for me! And then when it was time to weigh her in the fish scale sling, Tim took the reigns. She weighed in at 8lbs, 2 oz. Becky checked heart tones and respirations. Everything checked out perfectly.
And now I see how the two seemingly contradictory visions of her birth that I had had in my heart — one including a huge team and the other of me being all alone — were reconciled in the same story. I had labored alone in body and spirit, and then with only Tim beside me, we came to very brink of birth unassisted… but then just in the final moments, my beloved Sara was with me, and soon after the rest of them trickled in. Their company through those first few hours with Maeve is really precious to me. So, it looks like I got both of my dreams.
Before leaving, I was tucked into bed with a placenta smoothie (Becky makes awesome ones!), a groaning cake muffin (I had baked them in advance), and a bowl of Charis’ homemade ice cream (she makes amazing ice cream). Adrenaline was still coursing through my veins, so it was quite a while before I was able to do anything resembling sleeping, and even then it was the light, hyper-vigilant sleep of a new mama holding her brand new baby across her body.
We let the older kids just keep sleeping until morning, but Tim went in to wake them up just a bit before they normally would, so that he could tell them that Maeve arrived in the night and sort of explain why they hadn’t been woken to witness it. Hazel and Walter came in right away, excited as they could possibly be. Gus needed a minute (and some breakfast) before he wanted to come in to meet her. But each one greeted Maeve that still-dark morning with joy and tenderness. Made my mama heart melt into a puddle.
PHOTOS by the amazing Amy Carroll can be seen in THIS POST.
There are my kinds of midwives, each who have taken unique paths to become the sort of midwife that they are. Behind each sort of midwife there is a different philosophy, differences in training, and even more differences in the personality and natural inclinations of each midwife.
Because of my birth photography work, I’ve gotten to witness first hand many unique midwives at work. And they all amaze me. Midwives are incredible women who all have self-sacrifice, passion, and skilled hands as common characteristics, whatever other differences there may be between them. They’re also usually just really soulful, fun, and interesting people to spend time with, and I feel seriously SO lucky to get to be around them as often as I have been! I’m so encouraged to know that even in my mid-size city there’s a pretty good diversity of options for midwifery care. In Grand Rapids we have certified nurse midwives (CNMs) who work in hospitals, birth centers, and even homes. We have certified professional midwives (CPMs) who work in homes and birth suites. We have direct entry midwives (DEM) and lay midwives who work only in homes (and somewhat under the radar). Each one has a specific pregnant mama niche of women who need what she offers, and who will click with who she is. This diversity is awesome, because birthing women are diverse. For the entire community of midwives to be able to celebrate and champion what her sister-midwives bring to the table will only serve the greater good for all.
So as it comes time to make decisions about what sort of midwife I will become, and what path I’ll take toward that end, I want to be clear that I’m in no way making a claim to have found the best or most ideal path, nor chosen an option higher than the other options. I most sincerely do NOT believe that.
Rather, the path and type of midwifery I’m moving toward is “right” only insofar as it authentically lines up with my values/perspective, my personality and orientation to the world (an enneagram type 4, an INFP, a Christian) and the life experiences I’ve had (holistic health lifestyle, home births for all my babies, inner city ministry and community living, etc) and the training I’ve received that may serve me as a midwife also (a master’s degree in counseling, a health coaching certification from an integrative nutrition institute, years working for a naturopath/chiropractor, being a creative entrepreneur and a birth photographer) and even the life situation I am in (married to a pastor, raising 4 very small kiddos, living in the city). My job is to look at all those pieces listed above, plus the guidance of the good Shepherd with resolution toward obedience to it, plus the direction in which my heart leans… and to continue to walk in way that corresponds with all of that.
And here I’m about to get more technical than some will care to attempt tracking with, but my inclination is as such: to pursue a self-directed distance education program designed to adequately intellectually prepare me to sit for the NARM exam for certification as a professional midwife (if I decide to pursue certification at all, which is currently not legally required in MI), while also apprenticing under a second-generation midwife with the CPM credential, receiving my hands-on experience and in-the-moment learning from the wise woman ways she is uniquely prepared to impart to me.
On a deep and intuitive level, apprenticeship-based midwifery training resonates with my core. It makes so much sense to me that elder midwives teach the younger ones through close, life-on-life “discipleship” over a myriad of experiences and across years. I’m excited to gain the kind of learning that only can come from watching and doing alongside someone practiced and passionate in her work, someone who learned her ways from the wise women with whom she herself once apprenticed in a similar fashion. Women have unique ways of knowing, and they possess secret insight into female health and birth that I frankly don’t believe men or science ever will fully “get.” So though I do not want to be dismissive of scientific study or evidence-based practices, I want to get a really healthy dose of the more womanly and intuitive way of transmitting knowledge, skills and wisdom!
Then, because I actually love book learning and research and desire to be fully equipped with vital information, I’m also going to apply for an educational program that will provide guidance and accountability as I wade through all the massive amounts of books and studies and information that there is to know. There will be text books, quizzes, exams, homework and all the trappings of “university study,” minus the degree. This more “traditional” education will be a great counter-balance to the apprenticeship. Between these two pieces, I feel like I’ll be given a beautiful training! It will work with my values, my style of learning, and my limitations and goals (both practical and financial), as well as utilizing existing relationships that I deeply value (as in the one I already have formed with the midwife who will be my preceptor/teacher and other midwives who have shown interest in and invested in my journey thus far).
And so in 5-8 years (??) I imagine emerging on the other side of that with a realization that has gradually sunk into my bones: that I have become in my heart and spirit a wise woman, a midwife… as well as possessing some standardized measurements to prove that I’ve acquired a certain standard of education.
What a feeling of accomplishment and joy it will be to walk forward into the world with those credentials — both tangible and intangible – and to offer it all up as a love offering to women and babies and their families, and to my Jesus.
I can’t wait.
But for now and for a long while yet, there’s the process. God give me patience for and delight in every step.
after 3.5 hours of labor | 5:38 a.m. 8 lbs 8 oz | 19.5″ What follows is a very detailed telling of the story of Walter’s birth, as well as a slideshow of images from his birth. Some people will … Continue reading
One thing a miscarriage can do, I believe, is to soften you, open you. Maybe the heart mimics what the body is doing as it releases — whether you like it or not — the baby-that-would-have-been into the hands of God.
I had a[nother] miscarriage this weekend. It feels so surreal to name it, particularly in public like I am now. I didn’t know I was pregnant, had not sought to be, had in fact tried not to become so. My only clue was an uncharacteristic acne break-out, which I dismissed by way of other explanations.
Gus is so small still and I so overwhelmed by the task of caring for two, that I have not felt at all ready for babe #3. But it turns out that he would have become a big brother this coming august, had things turned out differently.
There was sudden and severe bleeding and consequent light-headedness. A trip to the ER where my blood pressure bottomed out and for several terrifying moments I feared I would leave my children motherless. There was the rather tactless delivery of the pregnancy test results, described in present tense and yet already in past tense. There was an ambulance ride to the main hospital downtown Madison, during which I sang worship to my Jesus, who was so near. There was lots of monitoring and an ultrasound to “rule out fetal activity” or ectopic pregnancy. There was so much blood, and so also a blood transfusion. There was waiting. Finally there was prayer-evoked miracle as we rounded a corner and came out of the woods, elated with relief that at least I was no longer in serious danger.
The same night I was back at my in-laws house, tucked in with my living babies, depleted, weak and exhausted but alive and grateful.
This was an unusual miscarriage. Such extreme blood loss isn’t typical. And it is certainly a complicated grief to be told about your baby in the same moment you are losing them.
But the softening… It has left me tender. It has put things into perspective, shrinking small dramas to their appropriate sizes, and making room on my heart to love another which, I believe, every pregnancy must do. We grow new spaces in our heart for each little person we carry. And if that space isn’t to ultimately be filled by a born and hold-able baby, we will share it with someone else who needs it. We will not be able to turn back or close off that new addition. So perhaps we move toward a future pregnancy with surprising new resolve and urgency, or we realize how much we do in fact want to become a mother (as was the case after my first miscarriage in 2010), or we cling tighter to the loved ones we already have…
… Or in some unusual case perhaps we are given an opportunity to open our arms and our home to a stranger, drawing on that deep reservoir of newly uncovered maternal tenderness to love them openly.
Which is the case for us. Because two days later we received a call about a pregnant teenage refugee who is giving birth today and needs a soft placed to land until a more permanent situation can be arranged when she turns 18. And against all worldly wisdom, only because Holy Spirit gave both of us a unity of peaceful Yes, we said yes to her, to them.
Today she us in a hospital in Michigan, laboring to give birth to her baby while I am packing up in Wisconsin for a return to our home where we will make room for these two (I have already arranged the furniture in mind ), so that when they are released from the hospital we can help to catch them with our love… A love I’m not actually sure I would have been able to access in this already crazy life season if I had not just suffered this loss and the scare that surrounded it.
I don’t know if that will make sense to many of you… But somehow I sense that these two events are a pair, by design.
Today I am thanking Papa and this little unknown child of ours for the gift of softening, opening.
because it’s become such a huge interest and passion of mine, i’ve been collecting articles and photos about pregnancy, natural birth, and newborn care on pinterest for a while. part of my reason for doing this is so that i can share it with other women on the brink of motherhood. if that appeals to you, you might appreciate that board.
gus came into the world in a way completely his own. there was almost nothing in common between his labor/delivery and hazel’s. it was, in many ways, redemptive for me.
his birth left me feeling powerful and courageous, alive and aware.
for those of you who want to read the entire story, feel free to click here: gus birth story.
for those who just want bare details….
- labor length: 5 hours
- pushes to get him out: 3
- where: on our bed
- when: 9 a.m. on march 10 (his due date)
he’s here. came right on his due date. came quickly and beautifully. full birth story to follow
i don’t remember 34 weeks feeling so uncomfortable when it was hazel. but perhaps memory mercifully fails us at some key points? my hips, pelvis and lower back are so achey and painful. my stomach is queasy and never satisfied no matter how many calories i attempt to pack away. each night i wake at 4 am and often remain [wide] awake until 6 am. some nights i don’t really sleep at all. each afternoon i nearly fall asleep while putting hazel down for her nap. baby boys movements, particularly in the midst of a good Braxton Hix contraction, feel just plain uncomfortable.
but the finish line is in sight.
meantime, it’s interesting to see the for my nesting has taken on this time around. its been less about acquiring baby gear (we’re already in pretty good shape) or making a nursery (he’ll sleep with us and we’ll keep his things in hazel’s room until we move) or reading birth stories to mentally prepare. this time it has been getting our house in order in super practical ways. like these massive projects:
- wrapping up all loose ends for clients of brooke collier photography
- getting our mortgage application and all other pre-requisites to house-buying in order
- setting up a new budgeting system in response to some changes in our financial situation that will be more complicated to navigate
- reapplying for medicaid for little man
these are the things that are taking up the bulk of my mental energy and free time. that, and a little sewing.
as for baby’s NAME. well, it hasn’t been as easy this time around. hazel was named months before she was born. we call this little man by a certain, long-beloved name, too. but when it comes right down to it, i’m still wavering on it. i suspect that we’ll have to see him and live with him a few days before i can either fully settle into his provisional name OR choose a new favorite from amongst the list of contenders.
and then there’s the impending birth. yes, that challenging ordeal you have to go through before you can hold the baby. 🙂 i’ve been really aware of lots of lingering anxiety this time around about giving birth. i have been anticipating it being incredibly long and difficult again, with hours of pushing, and a recovery period of weeks. it’s been really hard for me to imagine this birth being anything other than arduous and looooooong. my midwives — and other seasoned mamas — tell me that it is also very possible that this birth will be early (hazel was 10 days late) and quick, and the recovery much less complicated. they say to mentally prepare for that outcome as well. so now i’m trying to prepare for either without clinging to either. there’s been some internal stuff to wade through as i try to get my head in the game to give birth to my son. but i can feel things shifting and sense God’s grace. the fear is waning.
i got him a dresser and a bassinet. i sewed him a little pillow out of up-cycled pajama pants, and a bassinet sheet in burnt orange. and ordered him an art print from and etsy seller. his clothes are all packed into the dresser drawers, awaiting his body to fill them. we got some newborn size prefold diapers. the midwives are already paid in full.
he is head down and appear also to have dropped this past week, though i understand he may come in and out of this “dropped” position a few times between now and when labor begins.
he moves differently than hazel did. she was punchy and dramatic in her movements. he rolls and squirms more subtly.
hazel daily rests her curly little head on my belly and talks or sings to him, then kisses my belly. she and i have been watching home birth videos together so that, whatever she DOES witness of our homebirth process will not be so shocking or foreign to her. it has been so special, actually, to hold her in my lap and talk through the birth process, watching her responses. she is never as traumatized as i am, and rarely phased by even the most graphic images. but i am realizing that she has no reason to be! she hasn’t had a lifetime to build up judgements and negative associations about birth; to her, this is neutral territory still. i have this really unique opportunity to show her birth in a much different light than many girls have been shown it. i wonder how much of the labor and birth she will be around for, and how much she’ll need to get space from it. or will she sleep through it all? i am pretty confident that when he emerges and she first sees him, she will point and say, “baby” and try to kiss him.
there’s no summary point to this post. just some thoughts toward the end of a pregnancy that i wanted to make note of.
my newest little niece was born to my brother justin and my sister-in-love marguerite on may 1st.
she was born the morning after my own birthday, thereby making her the best birthday gift perhaps ever.
and i was honored to be in the room when she was born, and to have the satisfaction of seeing her placed on her mama’s chest, first thing. to hear her first cries, to see her brand new naked little body, to hug her daddy in his joy.